Monarch butterflies. Photo credit: Pia-Riitta Klein.
We have grown to love monarch butterflies, with their striking orange and black markings and their fascinating annual migration from southern Canada 3,000 miles south to Mexico. To help them, we have increasingly planted milkweed, the only plant on which their caterpillars will feed. In northwest Florida, the milkweed species most planted has been tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, as it is lush, showy and easy to grow.
Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, was visited by this monarch caterpillar who is now off to find a suitable place to make his transformation into a chrysalis. Photo by Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.
Tropical milkweed, unlike our native milkweeds that die back in late fall, will continue to grow through the winter unless killed by a hard freeze. Even if the cold kills the stems, it may regrow quickly from the roots. This seems like an advantage, but maybe not. The availability of a host plant for the caterpillars may be prompting adult females to stay and lay eggs rather than migrate south and be protected from deadly freezes.
Experts are also exploring links between the longer persistence of the tropical milkweed into winter and a build-up on those plants of a serious parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, commonly referred to as OE.
So, what is the answer?
- Cut back any tropical milkweed to the ground at Thanksgiving. That may encourage female monarchs to migrate and prevent a deadly build-up of OE spores on the plants.
- Consider adding some native milkweed species to your butterfly garden. Here are some recommended species from Dr. Jaret Daniels:
- Aquatic Milkweed (Asclepias perennis)
- Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
- Pinewoods Milkweed (Asclepias humistrata)
- Redring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata)
Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. Photo credit: Chris Evans, University of Illinois.
For more information:
Are non-native milkweeds killing monarch butterflies?
Monarch Joint Venture: Potential risks of growing exotic (non-native) milkweeds for monarchs
Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus Linnaeus (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Danainae)
Gardening Solutions: Milkweed
Leaf lettuce growing in a floating hydroponic system. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
Christmas is just around the corner and what better gift could you give other than the gift that keeps on giving…a hydroponic bucket garden! Floating hydroponic gardens are easy to build with supplies found at just about any home and garden center. A simple garden can be constructed with a 5-Gallon bucket, polystyrene foam board insulation, and “net pots” or other suitable containers to support the plants. Leaf lettuce and herbs are suitable plants for growing in a floating garden and will grow well indoors as long as there is plenty of natural light available.
- 5-Gallon Bucket
- Polystyrene Foam (1½ inch or thicker)
- Water-Soluble Fertilizer (10-10-10, 20-20-20, 24-8-16, or similar grade)
- Epson Salts (magnesium sulfate)
- Suitable Plants (leafy lettuce, greens, or most herbs – NOT rosemary)
- “Net Pots”, Polystyrene Cups with punctures, or other suitable containers
- Jigsaw, Drywall Saw, or Sharp Knife
- Hole Saw
- Cut, with a jigsaw, a 1½ inch board of polystyrene foam board insulation into 1-by-1-foot squares.
- Place the bottom of the bucket on a 1-by-1 foot square of foam and trace the shape of the bucket on the foam. Cut out the circle.
- Use a hole saw to cut evenly spaced holes out of the foam. (Typically 3 to 4 depending on “net pot”/plant container size.) The hole size should allow the bottom of the plant container to be level with the underside of the foam.
FERTILIZATION & PLANT CARE
Fill the bucket with approximately 2.5 gallons of water. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of water-soluble fertilizer for each gallon of water to be used in the bucket (approximately 5 to 9 teaspoons for 4.5 gallons of water). Add ½ to 1 teaspoon of Epson Salts for each gallon of water to be used in the bucket (approximately 2.5 to 4.5 teaspoons for 4.5 gallons of water). Mix the fertilizer and Epsom Salts with the water in the bucket. Continue to fill the bucket with water to within 1½ inches of the rim of the bucket. Set “net pots” or plant containers in the hole cutouts in the foam circle. Lay the foam circle, with inserted containers, on the surface of the water/fertilizer mixture in the bucket. Place the young starter plants in the containers. Do not remove the potting mix from the plant roots. The most critical aspect is the depth of the transplant’s root ball in the solution. The bottom of the root ball should be flush with the surface of the water. As the water/fertilizer mixture is taken up by the plants and evaporated, the water level in the bucket will decline.
A bucket garden may just be the beginning of your hydroponic ventures. For additional publications on growing hydroponic vegetables please visit the University of Florida/IFAS EDIS website hydroponic production page. If you want to start your own hydroponic farm then you may also be interested in attending the “Starting a Successful Hydroponic Business” training at the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center in Live Oak in March.
Photo by Sydney Park Brown UF/IFAS
Holly has been considered sacred in some cultures because it remained green and strong with brightly colored red berries no matter how harsh the winter, even when most other plants would wilt and die. According to Druid lore, hanging the plant in homes would bring good luck and protection.
Later, Christians adopted the holly tradition from Druid practices and developed symbolism to reflect Christian beliefs. Today, the red berries are said to represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross when he was crucified. Additionally, the pointed leaves of the holly symbolize the crown of thorns Jesus wore on his head.
Several holly species are native to Florida. Many more are cultivated varieties commonly used as landscape plants. Hollies (Ilex spp.) are generally low maintenance plants that come in a diversity of sizes, forms and textures, ranging from large trees to dwarf shrubs.
The berries provide a valuable winter food source for migratory birds; however, the berries only form on female plants. Hollies are dioecious plants, with male and female flowers on separate plants. Both male and female hollies produce small white blooms in the spring. Bees are the primary pollinators, carrying pollen from the male hollies 1.5 to 2 miles, so it is not necessary to have a male plant in the same landscape.
Several male hollies are grown for their compact formal shape and interesting new foliage color. Dwarf Yaupon Hollies (Ilex vomitoria ‘Shillings’ and ‘Bordeaux’) form symmetrical spheres without extensive pruning. ‘Bordeaux’ Yaupon has maroon-colored new growth. Neither cultivar has berries.
Hollies prefer to grow in partial shade but will do well in full sun if provided adequate irrigation. Most species prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soils. However, Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) and Gallberry (Ilex glabra) naturally occur in wetland areas and can be planted on wetter sites.
For a more comprehensive list of holly varieties and their individual growth habits refer to ENH42 Hollies at a Glance: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg021
Gadsden Tomato Forum December 7 2017. 8:00am-2:00pm
At the North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC)
155 Research Rd, Quincy, FL 32351
For more information contact
Phone: (850) 875-7255
There are plants that gardeners may know and love from other regions that just do not perform well in the heat, humidity, and soils of our area. One example is the Japanese pieris, an attractive evergreen shrub with showy white blooms in spring. This shrub has a few specific environmental requirements that make it unsuitable for most gardens along the Panhandle, including the need for rich organic soil that holds some moisture but is well drained.
Late winter/early spring flowers on the Mountain Snow. New foliage also emerges reddish. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
For those of you who thought that a garden with Japanese pieris is only a dream, the nursery industry has now made your dream a reality. Part of the Southern Living plant collection is a more heat tolerant Japanese pieris called Mountain Snow™ that is showing promise. Site selection is still very important. Mountain Snow™ will grow best with summer shade and in beds that are amended with organic material. Water must be applied when rainfall is lacking and soil must be well drained.
Shrubs will grow about 4 feet by 3 feet. Flower buds cover this established plant. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
Although those requirements can not be met in all landscapes, there are gardens like the Escambia County Demonstration Garden where a Mountain Snow™ plant will grow well. Our shrub is planted in an irrigated ornamental bed with organic mulch on top and receives summer shade from a deciduous tree. At two years old, it appears to be doing well in our area. If you have a garden spot with the conditions appropriate, consider trying this shrub for early season interest.